“What Exactly Is ‘Conversion Therapy?’ “

What Are We Talking About?

More and more people are throwing out the term “Conversion Therapy,” applying it to anyone who (a) believes homosexuality falls short of God’s will (b) believes God can free anyone from the power of any sin, and (c) disciples people to apply Biblical standards to their own lives.

As someone who has often (and inaccurately) been called a “Conversion Therapist,” let me offer 4 straight facts about
the subject.

1. Conversion Therapy Is an Overused And Misapplied Term

According to the American Psychiatric Association, conversion therapy is a form of therapy “based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation.”

To practice conversion therapy, then, you need to believe homosexuality is a mental disorder, and that the proper goal of therapy is to change sexual attractions from homosexual to heterosexual. 

Technically, you also should be a literal “therapist” if you’re practicing therapy, which implies a clinical rather than a Biblical emphasis.

To determine if it’s fair to apply this term to pastors, therapists, or Biblical counselors who offer a scriptural approach to people struggling with same-sex attractions, just take a minute to browse the websites of ministries offering such help.

If you look at what they offer, you’ll find Zero claims that they will completely “convert” sexual desires from gay to straight, or that homosexuals are mentally ill.

Start with the Restored Hope Network, one of the most prominent organizations mistakenly referred to as a “Conversion Therapy” proponent. Then check out Courage, a longstanding Catholic resource for believers wanting to know how to handle their sexual desires and relationships. Then try Exodus Global Alliance or ReStory Ministries and see for yourself if they claim they’ll convert people from one orientation to the other, or that gays and lesbians are mental cases.

You’ll find these organizations believe, as do I, that we are created beings whose Creator had a specific plan in mind for our sexual experience, and that homosexuality, like many other human conditions, falls short of His design. That makes it a sin, certainly, but hardly insanity.

(FYI, we also believe lust is a sin without believing people who lust are mentally defective. Just sayin’.)

You’ll also find that we do, indeed, believe in change. Change of perspective, behavior, relational skills, identity, and change in the power homosexual desires have had over us along with a belief in the potential, in many cases, of heterosexual arousal occurring as well.

We also believe in conversion, for sure. Conversion from death to life through faith in Christ, (John 3:3; I Peter 1:23) conversion of behavior (Acts 3:19; Romans 6:19) and self-view, (Romans 8:37; Ephesians 1:18) and the converting power of God to change lives, a transformative work St. Paul described (II Corinthians 3:18) while noting that temptations of some sort are expected and so, to some extent, new creations in Christ will always struggle with some aspect of their old nature. (Galatians 5:17)

Call that stupid if you please, or backwards, or outdated. But you can’t with integrity call it “conversion therapy” since we neither offer nor promise a complete conversion of same-sex attractions into opposite sex ones, and we don’t tell our clients they’re crazy. Rather, we equip people of faith to manage the sexual desires they have, and maintain fidelity to their own world view.

Nor do we try converting people’s beliefs on the matter. We’re up to our necks in people who are already converted, holding traditional Biblical beliefs and finding their own feelings or behaviors are at odds with those beliefs. That’s why they want help; that’s why they deserve it.

2. Image Isn’t Always Reality

Some fringe churches include the handling of rattlesnakes as part of their worship experience, considering it a sign of faith. They’re often called “Charismatic,” so one could mistakenly presume all Charismatic churches (which would include all Assemblies of God, Foursquare, and Vineyard congregations) pull out the copperheads when it’s time to praise. 

Thankfully, people usually see the difference between the extreme exception and the general rule.

But when the wrongs of some within a group get ascribed to the majority of the group, then a false image is created, an injustice is done, and propaganda is spread.

So if you want to silence people who hold an opposing view, then here’s a good strategy: discredit them in the eyes of the public by showing extremists who hold their viewpoint, then convince the public that all people holding that viewpoint are as dangerous and evil as the extremists you showcased.

That’ll do the trick; just ask Hitler’s propagandists.

Is that the America we really want? One in which diversity is crushed in the name of justice? 

Surely lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders have every right to live as they please, without criminalization, mistreatment, or fear of violence. 

But it’s just as certain that people disapproving of their behaviors are equally entitled to both the expression and the practice of their beliefs, notwithstanding the few bad eggs holding similar beliefs.

That’s how we roll on other issues, isn’t it? 

We’re aware, for example, of the many public school teachers who’ve molested their students. Likewise, the Board of Behavioral Sciences routinely yanks the licenses of therapists who’ve unethically had sex with their clients. The Catholic Church has been shaken to the core by injuries some priests have inflicted on children. Some parents abuse their kids; some spouses attack their partners. It all happens; it’s all horrible.

Yet no one is saying public teaching should be banned, psychotherapy should be criminalized, the priesthood should be abolished, all parents are evil, and all spouses are violent. Because (can I get a Duh?) when it’s proven that someone violated someone else, then on a case by case basis it should be dealt with, the guilt applying only to the individual, not to a broader group he may be part of. Is there any reason this principle, followed in all these other instances, shouldn’t apply here as well?

3. Batteries Aren’t Included

The actress Ashley Judd, speaking to the Women’s March on DC in 2021, referred ominously to shock treatment being imposed on gay teenagers under the guise of conversion therapy:

“Electro conversion therapy, the new gas chambers shaming the gay out of America, turning rainbows into suicide notes.”

Scary stuff, and Judd isn’t alone in mentioning it. There’s recently been a surge of voices suggesting or outright claiming that some churches, ministries, or Christian counselors subject homosexuals to electroshock therapy. As the saying goes, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while truth is still tying its shoelaces.” 

I’ve even had people ask me if I include “shock treatment” in my Biblical counseling practice. So in the interest of keeping our shoes tied, let’s
unpack this.

First, it’s true that homosexuals in the past were subjected to electroshock therapy, voluntarily or involuntarily. Indeed, in decades past when homosexuality was criminalized, lesbian women and gay men were institutionalized without their consent, a horrendous abuse in and of itself, compounded by forced treatments,
even lobotomies.

This psychiatric abuse – torture, even – of homosexuals co-existed with similar abuses inflicted on women, strong willed children, and others. Among such abuses shock treatments were common, as portrayed in films like Francis or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

But search for evidence of ministries today even considering such an approach and, again, you’ll search in vain. That won’t stop people from claiming it happens, because a public uproar against “conversion ministries” is inevitable if the public can be convinced they shock the faithful.

4. Personal Anecdotes Aren’t Proof Of Harm

In 1692, a group of girls claimed that citizens of Salem were tormenting them via witchcraft. Based on no evidence apart from these claims, 19 innocent people were hanged.

Centuries later, in the 1990’s, a number of therapists claiming to have revived repressed memories of satanic ritual abuse in their clients, sprang up and thrived. Based on personal accusations alone, families were split, careers destroyed, and lives ruined. We never seem to learn.

It’s shameful when people dish out slander. It’s even more discouraging to see how easily people swallow it.

In 2013, for example, the New Jersey Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee held a three-hour hearing on a bill that would ban therapists from practicing “reparative therapy” on minors. Testifying in favor of the bill was Brielle Goldani who claimed that as a teenager, in 1997, she was forced by her parents to attend a conversion therapy camp in Ohio called True Directions.

Goldani further claimed the camp was sponsored by an Assemblies of God church, and that while there, she and others teens were hooked up to electrodes for shock treatment, forced to learn flirting techniques with the opposite sex, and subjected to iv injections inducing vomiting.

Any decent person reacts with violent disgust to such a scenario, and no doubt Goldani’s testimony moved the Committee deeply.

But it was complete fabrication. Goldani’s former church denied ever hearing of such a program, the Ohio Secretary of State and Attorney General confirmed that no such camp ever existed, no paper trail could be found leading to it, no other person has ever filed a complaint against the camp (as they surely would have if it existed) and the only solid thing Goldani’s testimony could be linked to was a 1999 film about conversion camps titled But I’m a Cheerleader.

In response, Dr. Elton Moose, a licensed counselor from Springfield, Ohio, said in a written statement: “I have been in this business for 24 years and have not heard of this camp. … These types of shock-therapy accusations have been around for many years, but I have not actually known a practice that has used this therapy.”

Been There; Heard That

Nor does anyone else, because it simply doesn’t happen. Shock therapy has to be administered by a medical doctor in a medical setting utilizing expensive and specialized equipment. The idea of it being performed in a church or para-church environment stretches all credulity.

It also reminds us that, to achieve a social/political goal, silence an inconvenient opposing viewpoint, or avoid personal responsibility, some people will resort to any means necessary, however dishonest or unfair.

That’s why a gay pastor in Texas claimed a local Whole Foods market decorated a cake he bought from them with the word “Fag”, then admitted he’d lied when the evidence against him became overwhelming. 

That’s why a gay man in Iowa City filed a police report claiming an African American male beat him severely while calling him anti-gay names, only to later admit under investigation that the claim was entirely bogus and his wounds were self-inflicted. 

That’s why a lesbian couple in Parker, Colorado, were charged by the police with criminal mischief and filing a false report after they claimed someone painted the phrase “Kill the Gay” on their garage door, a story which fell apart when investigated by the FBI. 

Claiming a victim’s status based on sexual orientation can divert attention from real wrongs done, while eliciting sympathy for the individual and
the cause.

Trouble is, most lesbians and gays are far too responsible and sincere to practice this sort of nonsense, so they, too, are unfairly smeared when it’s practiced. And violence against homosexual and transgender people is real, common, and evil. Just as the false claims of satanic ritual abuse unfairly discredited victims of real abuse, so false claims of gay-bashing today make it all the harder for real victims of it to be heard.

But by the same token, each claim of abuse, whether of violence by another person, or malpractice by a minister or counselor, should be taken case by case, requiring evidence beyond someone simply claiming “I was harmed.”

Even the American Psychological Association, which clearly positions itself as favoring gay rights, normalizing homosexuality, and being opposed to “conversion therapy”, had the integrity to assess the claims of damage done by what they called Sexual Orientation Conversion Efforts (SOCE) when they said:

“We conclude that there is a dearth of scientifically sound research on the safety of SOCE. Early and recent research studies provide no clear evidence of the prevalence of harmful outcomes among people who have undergone efforts to change their sexual orientation or the frequency of the occurrence of harm because no study to date of adequate scientific rigor has been explicitly designed to do so. Thus, we cannot conclude how likely it is that harm will occur from SOCE.”

Listen, Learn, Love

Let’s listen to anyone who claims to have been abused, by anyone, in any way. Then, if their claims are confirmed, let’s weep with them, demand corrective action be taken, and pray hard for them and their families, 

Let’s also learn to distinguish between the actions of some versus the actions of most, applying the Proverbs literally when they remind us that “Unjust weights and measures are an abomination.” (Proverbs 11:1) Outrage against social injustice is called for; determinations of social injustice need to be made fairly.

Then let’s love. Let’s love our fellow citizens enough to, as Paul said, strive to live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:18) 

And, as Jesus commanded (Luke 10:25-37) let’s also be good neighbors, regardless of our neighbor’s orientation or behavior, serving them when we can, respecting them as people, and prayerfully sharing the gospel with them as wisdom and opportunity allow.

Let’s also, though, love God and the Body of Christ enough to refuse to bend when the culture says Anathema! to our service towards those who, by God’s grace, realize their sexual leanings are outside His will. 

As long as there are people wanting to live sanctified lives, contrary to whatever their sexual desires may be, I hope always to have the honor of walking with them. 

All of us need God’s grace in our lives. May all of us receive it.

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[email protected] | Mar 19, 2024

Hey Joe. You did it again!

Rusty Writer | Apr 27, 2024

For 40 years the much larger ex-gay ministries promising "change" from homosexuality to a life of heterosexuality finally admitted nobody changed sexual orientation via Christ. The major, decades-old ex-gay ministries from the US to Australia shut down forever. According to this blog post, the few remaining ex-gay ministries don't even try to claim that someone will ever be changed from gay to straight. And that the best they can strive for is the old "pray away the gay" approach, but only towards actions, not sexual orientation.

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